Film review: LOVING, from ‘Built For Speed’

Loving from Take Shelter and Midnight Special writer/ director Jeff Nichols dramatises the true story of married couple Richard and Mildred Loving, who as a white man and an African American woman, in early 1960’s, Virginia were forced to battle racist attitudes and laws that threatened to destroy their relationship. Marrying out of state in Washington DC they were confronted with the bizarre prospect of jail if they both returned to Virginia to live. With Mildred desperate to stay in contact with her family in Virginia the couple had to conduct a covert relationship and live in secret like members of a resistance movement.

Given a basic plot outline, most cinema-goers could picture a lot of what happens in this film. Despite this, the film strikes powerful emotional chords due to the convincing way in which Joel Edgerton as Richard and Ruth Negga as Mildred embody their characters.

Edgerton at first seems a little odd with his perpetually puzzled look and contorted face but his reactions and mannerisms become increasingly understandable as the film progresses. With his bleached-blonde and short-cropped hair he looks like the stereotypical red neck of the time although he is of course the complete opposite. Edgerton movingly conveys the emotional turmoil of this simple and reserved man who struggles to understand the insanity of the events in which he has become embroiled. He often seems consumed by anger and on the verge of erupting – particularly when he’s listening to young city lawyers describing the legal complexities of their case – which gives the film a constant bubbling tension. As Mildred, Ruth Negga wonderfully conveys dignity and strength in the face of vicious absurd laws and thankfully does so without coming across as a contrived Christ-like figure. Not surprisingly she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards.

The film is also a tribute to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) whose young lawyers Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Paul Hirschkop (Jon Bass) take up the Loving’s case and Life Magazine photographer Grey Villette (Michael Shannon) who’s photos provided touching intimate portraits of the couple.

The film features the obligatory sadistic redneck sheriff (Marton Csokas) but he’s a forcefully intimidating and creepy character even if his accent is at times a little hard to understand. More disturbing is the ludicrous Kafkaesque bureaucracy which (supported by its acolytes in the judiciary) has been contrived to keep black and white separate.

Director Nichols’ convincingly captures the look of the early 1960’s and his economical style doesn’t waste a second. Also, it wouldn’t be a 1960’s film without some great music and Loving features some excellent soul tunes all cleverly deployed for maximum effect.

This is a simple and very well-crafted piece of cinema in which injustice, humanity and personal strength resonate powerfully.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Jeff Nichols.

Release date: 16th March 2017.

Running time: 123 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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